A judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) delivered on 04 December 2018 has confirmed that the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has jurisdiction to decide to disapply a rule of national law that is contrary to EU law.

A preliminary reference was submitted by the Supreme Court to the ECJ arising out of a case concerning three individuals who were excluded from recruitment process of An Garda Siochana on the grounds that they were above the age of 34, the maximum age of recruitment laid down by Regulation 5(1)(c) of the Garda Siochana (Admissions and Appointments) Regulations 1988, as amended. These individuals who had brought their complaints before the Equality Tribunal submitted that the setting of a maximum age of recruitment by An Garda Siochana was prohibited by Council Directive 2000/78/EC (which established a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation) (the “Directive”) and by the provisions of the Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2015 which transposed the Directive into Irish law.The Minister for Justice and Equality pleaded before the Equality Tribunal that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the individuals’ complaints on the grounds that a national law had imposed the maximum age of recruitment and only a Court established under the Irish Constitution had jurisdiction to decide, if necessary, whether to disapply such a provision. Nonetheless the Equality Tribunal proceeded to consider the complaints resulting in the Minister bringing an application before the High Court seeking an order prohibiting the Equality Tribunal from acting in a manner contrary to law. The High Court duly granted the order of prohibition sought resulting in an appeal by the Equality Tribunal to the Supreme Court. When the matter came before the Supreme Court, a preliminary reference to the ECJ ensued.In its judgment, the ECJ determined that the WRC was the body established by the Irish legislature to give effect to Ireland’s obligations pursuant to the Directive. As such, the principle of primacy requires the WRC to give full effect to EU law and if necessary, it can disapply any provision of national legislation that is contrary thereto.

For further information on employment law matters, please contact Cathy Donald in our office.